On the Ultimate Commodity called Time

- Time is the ultimate commodity. Employers pay you in order to buy your time, don’t they? So you must treasure it.

I said so to an audience of eighty students and fresh graduates in a Career Orientation workshop.

I’d been pondering this thought for a couple of days before the event.  What the brilliant American author Anne Lamott wrote in Bird by Birdthe Holy Bible for many writers – is pure truth:

quotation markThink of it. Employers pay salaries for time. That is the basic commodity that human beings have that is valuable. We exchange our time in life for money.

After I shared this truth to the students who eagerly came to that event in the hope for more “orientation”, I couldn’t tell if they really understood its significance: that they should never sell their time short.


Time is the only commodity that can be exchanged for what I want out of life. And when I combine this belief with the awareness that death is always lurking, the respect I have for my own time took on a new level. I also felt more deliberate in making my choices.

Annie Dillard famously said “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives”. You and I  the same amount of time each day: 24 hours. Not a second more. Not a second less. Like going to the supermarket with 24 dollars each day, I want to put in my trolley things that make me truly happy.

These days, I put in my trolley yoga, writing, reading, learning, family, love, friends, social work, and art, because they bring me joy, a sense of meaning and purpose, and a feeling of coming alive. 

However I see many around me mindlessly toss in their trolleys a myriad of stuffs: a job they neither hate nor like, shows that they will forget the moment they turn their TV of, news that they can’t do anything about besides feeling insecure about the world and how lucky their own life is, conversations that only satisfy the gossiping thirst, relationships that make them feel inadequate.

Why? Because at some point in one’s life, he is told that if he exchange his time for a stable and certain path to money, even at the cost of boredom and discontent, nothing bad will happen to him. The money will buy him happiness, security, respect, joy. To sum up the more money and certainty he has; the greater his odd for the pursuit of happiness is. 

While the question of whether money can buy happiness is debatable, I want us to rethink these two formula a little. What if what he does in boredom might not bring him much so much money at all? What if the money he gets might bring fast-die gratification but not joy? There are a lot of things at stake.


The Dalai Lama, when asked what surprised him most about humanity, answered : “He lives as if he is never going to die, and then dies having never really lived.” The sentiments make me cringe. I thought of the scene in Iron Man when Tony Stark in his Iron Man 1.0 suit storming out the cave, he found his partner Yinsen bleeding on the ground gasping the last breaths.

- We gotta go. Come on, move with me. We got a plan, and we're going to stick to it.

- This was always the plan, Stark...

- Come on, you're going to go see your family. Get up.

- My family is dead, Stark... and I'm going to see them now. It's okay, I want this... I want this.

[Stark is silent for a moment]

- Thank you for saving me.

- Don’t waste it…Don’t waste your life, Stark.

This moment changed Stark’s life.

Sometimes, I want to grab a person’s arms, shake his him out of his drifting day, and shout: “Don’t waste it!Don’t waste your life!” But I know change doesn’t happen like that.

For me, knowing that I have a choice of which to exchange time for, and I must exercise this choice in order to take responsibility for my life has been the most profound realization. I chose not to sell my time short and join the modern form of slavery – money slave.  

I made a promise to exchange my time for only what brings me joy, now when I am young and don’t have three kids to feed. I also made a promise to invest time in my health, in new knowledge and skills through practical learning – investing time in increasing the value of my time. Money may come fast or slow, soon or later, a lot or enough. Still, I am using a shorter formula to happiness.

What about you?

Which formula are you using?

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On the notion of time, visit The Train of Our Life: a Tale of Death and Being Alive and Hourglass – Our Paradox of Death and Time; or read more about passion in Lighthouse – Discovering and Following Our Passion and The Courage to Choose and The Search for Passion; or on the topic of money The Thirst to Acquire and the Dream We Can’t Live

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